"I'm an upstanding citizen and I'm not doing anything wrong. I just don't want the government invading my privacy."
I got into a heated argument, a disagreeable shouting match over that idea today -- mostly being shouted at for nitpicking someone on my own side. I find the above rationale to be a surface response without any thought behind it or any acknowledgement of how actual surveillance-societies of the past devolved into Orwellian abominations. Worse still, the current drive for a "Total Information Awareness" society, where birth to death communications will be stored forever by the government, looms over us. NSA / Booz Allen Hamilton whistleblower Edward Snowden has said:
"they are intent on making every conversation and every form of behavior in the world known to them."
To that end, the NSA's operating budget has increased steadily, avoiding any cutbacks from the so-called "sequester." The new NSA storage facility in Utah is a central piece of this total data capture society:
"An article by Forbes estimates the storage capacity as between 3 and 12 exabytes in the near term...advances in technology could be expected to increase the capacity by orders of magnitude in the coming years." (Wikipedia)
NSA Whistleblower William Binney revealed further problems at the National Security Agency and its runaway capabilities:
" Binney alleged... controls that limited unintentional collection of data pertaining to U.S. citizens were removed, prompting concerns by him and others that the actions were illegal and unconstitutional. Binney alleged that the Bluffdale facility was designed to store a broad range of domestic communications for data mining without warrants." (Wikipedia)
Edward Snowden has also said:
"I also had the capability without any warrant to search for, seize, and read your communications. Anyone's communications at any time. That is the power to change people's fates."
Changing people's fates is the key phrase here. How and why can this personal data be used? With lifelong surveillance of everyone, we are little better off than goldfish swimming from glass wall to wall, always under the complete scrutiny of the authorities. It doesn't take any imagination whatsoever to see the implications of total scrutiny by secretive government or quasi-governmental entities (or others!).
The STASI regime in East Germany was legendary for this type of behavior, monitoring their own people allegedly for their own good. A hyper-paranoid society emerged where everyone was suspect. Anyone could be an informant, coerced by the authorities into betraying their neighbors or family members. Trust of government was nonexistent, and soon all trust throughout the society crumbled. Any stranger could be a government agent, himself blackmailed by the state into carrying out their wishes.
Guilt by Association
The problem is blackmail. That is what Edward Snowden meant when he talked about changing people's fates. When all associations are known to authorities, the very act of communicating with someone becomes dangerous. If they are found to be displeasing to the secretive masters of society, then how long before your very real, recorded linkage to them becomes problematic as well? Guilt by association and character assassination do not require you to be "doing anything wrong," only to be perceived that way as a result of smears. Sensitive data about personal habits can destroy a political campaign before it ever begins. The manipulation of the public takes many forms, which political activists and the professional political class understand well.
While Obama and Company (on both sides of the aisle) hawk this glaringly unconstitutional assault as alleged protection, being no threat to the public whatsoever -- their vanilla lives deemed uninteresting enough to not concern the state -- the terrifying nature of power and coercion must be addressed. Before we follow the propaganda line that we are "not doing anything wrong," and so have nothing to worry about, there is plenty to worry about when privacy is erased.
The legal justifications for securing our personal effects, enshrined in the 4th Amendment, represent the cornerstone of American freedom: that F-word politicians blather on about at length even as they secretly betray it. This is not simply a personal preference to be private but is the necessary precondition for a free society. Private communications are the difference between what once was America and what once was the Soviet Union, or Orwell's dystopia if you prefer. The value of having secure, private lives free of government malfeasance and scrutiny is beyond a price and beyond debate. As long as the Constitution remains the "Supreme Law of the Land," those who willingly violate it have committed treason against the American people.
Personal preference has nothing to do with it. This is about the very nature of freedom, to be free of coercion and blackmail. While it's true the government apparatus likely has nothing against most people because of their unremarkable ordinariness, this government posture changes immediately as people become politically active. What the masters of society take very seriously are their own positions of power, and they brook no challengers.